As children, we were taught the rhyme, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other is gold.”
This lesson rang true as we began to grow up and navigate our young lives, and taught us the importance of allowing for life’s changes while remaining true to our roots and values.
As Lehigh begins to undergo its own period of growth, this message gains a new, but even more prominent meaning.
Through the Path to Prominence initiative, Lehigh has made drastic efforts toward change, just in the past academic year. While it is important to grow as an institution to remain competitive among other comparable schools, Lehigh students, faculty and alumni alike are wary of the changes that Lehigh anticipates in the coming years.
The Lehigh community is justifiably fearful that amidst this sea of change comes the loss of the traits and traditions that make our university unique.
While it is easy to boast all of the great opportunities that Lehigh’s initiatives have created, these expansion plans do not come without letting go of some of the ornate aspects of our community that have drawn students to Lehigh for years.
On a broader scale, the physical expansion of Lehigh’s campus has already altered the landscape of the South Bethlehem community and its residents. In the past decade, the South Side community has bore witness to the grass roots of rapidly growing gentrification, which has brought in new, often expensive restaurants and businesses that have served as a draw to Lehigh students. In turn, these developments have made the cost of life unattainable for many lower income residents. Starbucks locations have popped up in the place of local coffee shops, representing a larger shift away from the small businesses that Bethlehem has been built upon.
Lehigh is seeing great physical changes on campus as well. Renovations of the University Center and other “quintessentially Lehigh” buildings will undoubtedly allow for campus growth and opportunities, but they force us to question if these changes will come at the expense of Lehigh’s history.
As Lehigh continues to develop, serious considerations have to be made: What are we looking to preserve, and what are we willing to let go in exchange for campus and student development?
The changes are also occurring within Lehigh’s student community. Since its origin, Lehigh has gained a reputation among many as a Greek life-centered school. While having a well-renowned reputation for its academics as well, our Greek and social scenes have and continue to serve as a draw for a strong percentage of students who wish to attend.
As the public image surrounding Greek life has become increasingly negative, the conversation has shifted from one that shows it as an attribute to our community to one that hinders us. While not speaking against its existence entirely, in the last few years, Lehigh has made blatant efforts to rid the Greek community from its image.
In doing so, Lehigh must anticipate attracting a drastically different demographic than the one that it has for years.
Many aspects of change, however, are inevitable and objectively positive. In the past 154 years, Lehigh has grown dramatically in size and stature. Transitioning from a primarily white, all-male school, to a more inclusive, co-ed community, Lehigh has had to let go of its origins, but has improved immeasurably as a result.
Looking forward, Lehigh possess the potential to become greater than it ever has, creating more opportunities for students than ever imaginable 154 years ago. But in all of the room for growth comes the responsibility to sustain our community, to embrace the city we reside in, to celebrate our traditions and to remember Lehigh’s history.